With a life-long sweet tooth and an unlimited capacity to eat desserts, at nine years old I felt the urge to ‘level up’ my love of all things sweet and sugary. I began to teach myself how to bake.
I started with boxed cake mixes. The Pillsbury Confetti Rainbow cake mix was one my favorites, because I loved the little pieces of color which showed up in between my electric whisker as I turned, with the addition of eggs and milk, the pale yellow cake powder into a scrumptious, liquid mix. Mom uses milk instead of water whenever she bakes cake, and reasons that milk produces a richer flavor. She had passed that knowledge to the unassuming, beginner-baker that I was, and years later I still use milk to replace water in my cake recipes. I can attest that using milk does indeed produce a richer-flavored cake, because the one time I used water, the cake almost tasted like cardboard. My all-time favorite boxed cake mix flavor was, and perhaps still is (although I haven’t eaten it in a while) Betty Crocker’s Moist Dark Chocolate with Hershey’s chocolate.
By 12 I had excelled from boxes to baking-from-scratch, although I have read that in order to actually make anything from scratch, one has to first create the universe. Regardless, my family was proud, and even grateful, for my ‘elevated’ baking skills. Our kitchen table usually offered passer-bys fresh dessert. My baking repertoire had quickly progressed from simple, boxed cakes to a variety of cookies, cupcakes, and cheesecakes – my favorite dessert.
Mom would haughtily inform our guests when “Maryam made [said dessert] by herself.” (In my traditional Afghan family and friend group, I always won domestic points!) My uncle once thought he was eating a store-bought peanut butter and chocolate chip cookie from the tray laid out on the living room table. My family and I went along with the joke, until he laughed said, “Maryam bakes much better cookies than these!” I interpreted his comment to be flattering, rather than a comment genuine. I could tell he was impressed by my baking skills after Mom informed him they were indeed, Maryam’s home baked cookies.
After I mastered enough baking skill to keep my amateur, baker-self content, at 13 I tried my hand at cooking. I bought a chicken recipe book, and while most of the recipes only called for easy marinades and simple stir fries, occassionally I’d prep some fairly complex chicken recipes which involved dozens of ingredients. Another uncle still talks about how much he enjoyed the Kashmiri butter chicken I once made for a family lunch.
Food, like many other hobbies, took a backseat during high school. My relationship with food, however, was rekindled at Middlebury. During MiddCORE in the summer of 2015, I formulated the idea for Macaroni and Choose L3C (M&C), a late-night, Middlebury-student-run-for-Middlebury-students, macaroni and cheese delivery service. M&C revolves around the idea of condiments for mac and cheese. The base dish, mac and cheese, is kept exciting by adding various delectable condiments that students can pick for their mac and cheese. Additionally, all of M&C’s ingredients are organic and local.
My long-term plan for M&C is to launch a supermarket line of mac and cheeses, which comes in many flavors and two standard boxes: a quick and easy, microwavable M&C, and a classic stove-top mac. M&C will also have additional packaged condiments – fun and daring flavors – sold separately. The service M&C currently uses rotelle or rotini pasta, and my hope is that the supermarket version of M&C will use the same type of pasta instead of elbow or shell macaroni. These two elements introduce a differentiated product to the mac and cheese market.
Many of my happiest memories revolve around, or in some significant capacity, involve food. From picnics at the park, to baking and cooking meals for my family and friends, to the observance of religious occasions like Ramadan, which obligate Muslims to refrain from eating and drinking from dawn to dusk (I am currently observing Ramadan), I believe that food is at the core of every society.
Extending the belief that food threads together societies, farming is at the core of every economy. In our fast-paced world it is easy to lose sight of where our food comes from. Understanding food systems seems to be of concern only among those who are already involved in the food industry. If everyone were more aware, and critical, of what we ate, many nutrition and health issues, such as obesity, would decrease in impact.
Through FoodWorks, my aim is to learn more about sustainable food systems: the obstacles and barriers surrounding food systems, and how to start and sustain healthy food systems in locales and economies where they cease to exist. I would also like to learn more about the manufacturing and distribution aspects of food systems, especially as it pertains to someone who aims to launch her own market product, specifically within the realm of wholesale pasta and all-natural, powdered cheese.